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Home Another putter trend or is there more to it?

While no one knows what the future holds; one thing seems to be already a foregone conclusion. Belly putters are gaining momentum and retailers are bracing for consumers clamoring for the product when the next recreational playing season arrives. “Retail dictates what you do,” said Steve Boccieri, founder of the Heavy Putter. “They are always trying to reinvent something new,” he added. “We jumped on the bandwagon like everyone else,” said Boccieri. “We are selling more than we can make.”

Part of the challenge of keeping up with demand at the moment is getting the components, such as longer shafts, as several companies are in a race to fulfill future, be it anticipated, demand. TaylorMade adidas Golf reported last month it tripled its fourth quarter forecast for belly and long putters to meet what it termed growing demand amongst consumers and retail partner. “We can’t make these putters fast enough,” said Michael Fox, TMaG’s global product category manager for putters and wedges. “The feedback has been the same from our global tour reps as more and more professionals clamor for these hot new products”

Heavy Putter, according to its founder, has an advantage over the competition. “Odyssey, like every other company, has to reconstitute its head weight for the belly putter from its other models,” he said, adding the balance point is altered when the shaft length is. “The Heavy Putter models simply requires re-shafting since the balance point isn’t altered due to head weight,” he explained. The company Mid-Weight series, for example, has a standard head weight of 400 grams. Its Original and Matte series have a standard head weight of 475 Grams, while the Deep Face series has a standard head weight of 465 grams. Most conventional putter heads weigh approximately 300-350 grams by contrast. “The balance point in a conventional putter is lower than in a belly model and you can’t just re-shaft it since it changes,” Boccieri explained. “When I pick up the belly putter and I try it, it's very similar to my stroke,” said Tiger Woods recently when questioned on the subject. “The only difference is the weight throws me off. But how it's released is how I release a putter anyways, so it doesn't really change.”

bellyNevertheless, Boccieri acknowledged there are other changes that are required with the belly putter but it isn’t up to the manufacturer to incorporate it. “The belly putter simply provides a more consistent path the head travels. Through my own research using an ultrasound machine I found it provides for a more repeatable path. It’s what ultimately led to the creation of the Heavy Putter as the weight in a standard length putter provides the same stability as the belly putter path provides. But you do have to learn how to putt again with a belly putter. You can’t just stick it in your gut and try to use your old stroke,” he explained. Phil Mickelson acknowledged back at the BMW Championship in September that he had turned to Keegan Bradley for some help in getting accustomed to the method. “I haven't used it for years to really know the intricacies of it and comment on whether or not it's really a better way to putt or not,” Mickelson said in September.

Boccieri was candid about the belly putter trend that has become fashionable, of late, on the PGA TOUR and expected to follow through with recreational players. “A belly2retailer once said to me and I won’t divulge who it was, but belly, lefties and lady putters are inventory poison,” he said. “There really isn’t anything new in the putter category to talk about,” he continued. “Players think the putter is solely the fault if you miss a few putts. One day the hole looks like a bucket the next day it’s a pea hole. That’s golf,” he continued. “The balance point on a belly putter is different than a convention putter just as over sized grips raise it too. Jumbo Winn grips are around a 130 grams compared to traditional size grip that weighs 60-70 grams. The higher balance point forces a player to use the bigger muscles, which leads to a more consistent stroke and path. Most people don’t know what a grip weighs is and the after market for grips is an overwhelming majority in the oversized camp.” Boccieri points to the success the belly or long putters have from inside 15 feet but from 40 feet its another story. “Players struggle with making the same stroke,” he said. “Some players would be better off carrying two putters, a belly or long one for shorter distances and a traditional one for long range. Kinda like Mickelson when he used two drivers,” Boccieri said.

Coming back to the topic of belly putter, Boccieri offered two predictions. “It’s going to be big next year,” he said. “But I think it’s going to run its course. For now its considered new, which retail is screaming for. But after a while players will go back to their old putters if they don’t see a difference in performance.”

Its worth pointing out that while the OEMs are furiously building belly and long putters for next year, in an anticipation of a replacement cycle, many players including professionals, historically haven’t shown much loyalty to any specific putter model. Conventional putters represent the lowest priced club in the set, which also fosters turnover. A milled putter head can rival or even surpass the cost of a driver head, especially for smaller companies that don’t have significant market shares to reach the volume needed to lower the cost. The belly putter in particular features a higher retail price, which some players may perceive as an up charge to traditional putter models. Therefore, inventory shortage could turn into a surplus at some point next year if the forecaster’s crystal ball happens to be off.